Mad, Grad and dangerous

30 September 2007

Cambridge graduate students face another turbulent term after their newly-appointed union president was sacked by election officials – before a University don intervened and gave him his job back.

Election officials for the University’s Graduate Union (GU) decided unanimously to disqualify winner Leo Shidai Liu after judging that he had campaigned unfairly, and gave the job to runner-up Claire Norman.

But she lasted little more than a month in the post after University junior proctor Michael Kuczynski slapped down the GU returning officers’ ruling. The union then held two emergency meetings before officially back-pedalling and reappointing Liu.

This is the latest blow for an under-fire GU after the nominations closed for the original election – without a single name put forward. Nominations were re-opened, and three candidates stepped up – Liu, Norman and Geum Young Min.

But after winning the election, Liu was in trouble when it emerged he had sent a mass e-mail to the students of St Edmund’s College, where he is Combination Room president, and had posted various messages on Facebook and the GU forum.

GU rules state no candidate can use an official position within their own college to garner support, or approach voters directly – and four complaints were made to returning officers about Liu’s electioneering.

Union officials upheld the complaints and said in their report: “We noted that all candidates had been made aware of this rule and agreed to abide by the election regulations by signing the nomination forms. We felt that the e-mail could have influenced the fairness of the election.”

After union officials swooped to replace him, Liu wrote to Mr Kuczynski and said: “I was IRREGULARLY disqualified.”

He explained the returning officers had previously issued him a warning over his conduct, in which they said: “If another such action occurs, you will be disqualified as a candidate for GU President”.

Mr Kuczynski supported Liu’s claims and recommended the returning officers reverse their decision – which meant the end of the line for replacement president Claire Norman. She was given a tidy £5,000 pay-off – £2,500 of which came out of University coffers.

Norman told The Cambridge Student: “It’s been bizarre and unfortunate. Although the matter is now resolved I certainly hope that no candidate is ever placed in the position that I was.”

But returning officer Beth Bowers expressed dismay that Liu had leap-frogged GU officials by not lodging a formal complaint against his dismissal, instead going straight to the junior proctor.

She said: “Constitutionally he should not have gone to the proctor until lower channels had been exhausted – and he did not make a complaint within the 48-hour deadline.” Meanwhile, in his report to University vice-chancellor Alison Richard, Mr Kuczynski wrote: “I believe that certain aspects of the electoral regulations and procedures of the Graduate Union need to be revisited in order to avoid these sort of misunderstandings.”

Bowers insisted the chaos had, perversely, made the GU stronger, but recognised a need for change.

She said: “I stand by my decision and remain surprised by the level of interest and scrutiny undertaken by the University on what was, on one level, a straight-forward issue.

“But I fully recognise the need for the GU to move forward and we have resolved a complex situation for the greater good. I understand that electoral reform is underway in preparation for the next annual election.”

Preparing for his first term in charge, Liu said: “I was shocked when I found out about the disqualification. At the time I was playing pool with a friend.

“I did very well in the first game – I finished all my balls in round four, and it was the first time I’d done that.

“When I found out, I didn’t know what I had done wrong. After that, I couldn’t continue my game. Emotionally, I was very shocked.

“But I received 65 votes more than the next candidate and I strongly feel that my campaigning was more effective, and the voters wanted me to become President.

“I think the GU has faith in me. The role of the rest of the officers is to support the president, whoever the president is.”